As a fellow traveler, what better way to kick off the New Year, and celebrated Chinese New Year, than with a fabulous trip to the New York Times Travel Show! Inspiration filled the exhibit hall and the seminar rooms were packed to hear from the industry experts.
Top 5 destinations to consider for your 2017 travel plans:
1. Waldorf Astoria New York: Go right now before they close on 1st March! We were fortunate to spend the weekend in the historical luxury accommodations. The renovations are anticipated to take 2-3 years and will be predominately turned into condos. Treat yourself to an overnight stay, historical tour, or perhaps a Bellini at the bar.
2. Paris: Since the attacks in November 2015 tourism is down drastically with the ability to enjoy sites without crowds. You can easily secure dinner reservations at top tier restaurants and enjoy lower hotel prices. Even better news for US travelers is the dollar is currently very strong against the euro. Frank Sinatra said it best in his famous hit “I love Paris“. So what are you waiting for!
3. Montreal: Well, if Paris is simply too far, consider its little sister. Montreal is your Parisian weekend getaway for anyone in North America. Once again the U.S. Dollar is strong against the Canadian dollar so great time to go. Oh and did I mention that Montreal is celebrating 375 years? As the birthplace of Cirque de Soleil there is no doubt you will definitely be entertained with festival events.
4. Haida Gwai: Another option to take advantage of the low Canadian dollar is the hidden location of Haida Gwai. It was been nicknamed the “Candian Galápagos'” given all the engandered species living locally.
5. Karasjok Norway: one of the best places to witness the infamous northern lights. Every 10 years the lights increase in intensity and 2017/18 is on schedule to become amazing. Plan your travels for September thru mid-April 2018 and get ready to enjoy the night sky.
The Chicago Travel & Adventure show was last weekend and I found a few new travel ideas that include 1 new city and 2 new sea adventures.
I was introduced to Emerald Waterway which is a UK based company that focuses on river cruises primarily European. The ships are small offering full service and high end amenities. I will definitely be investigating for future travel plans.
For anyone considering a trip to Patagonia there is an option to take a cruise with Skorpios in Chile with amazing views of the glaciers and fjords. The tours are limited to travel between October through April but bookings can be made over 1 year in advance.
After a visit to the Mexico booth I have found a destination that I will be adding to my list. The city of San Luis Potosi might be the best kept secret in Mexico with a castle hidden in the jungle and unlimited adventure activities.
In other news while visiting with agents from Chicago US Passport agency I was very disheartened to learn that I do not own my passport! My most prized possession is officially the property of the United States government and must be surrendered at any time upon request of an authorized member of the State Department or the government. Yikes! I solemnly promise to be a loyal steward of “my” passport.
Hola amigos. A few weeks ago I travelled to Colombia; yes the country. Let me begin by resolving some of your possible current conceptions. I have heard these common questions from many people: “Were you ever scared or nervous?” “Did you feel danger lurking around every corner?” “Did you see any drug lords?” I can easily answer NO to all of these questions even though I travelled independently with only one female friend. The country is full of beautiful landscapes, incredible architecture, amazing coffee, good food and friendly people. Our travels included a few days in Bogota, Salento coffee plantation region, and Cartagena.
Here are the top 10 highlights I would recommend from our adventure:
1. Hike in the Cocora Valley among the 60 foot wax palm trees providing a truly peaceful and beautiful environment. The photos are unable to do it justice as unfortunately the weather was not very agreeable the day we went but trust me this is a must see item.
2. Enjoy the local fruits such as lulo, feijoa, and tomato de árbolthat are only available in Colombia that will “knock your socks off” with flavor.
3. Marvel at over 55,000 gold pieces at the Bogota Gold Museum which is one of the most visited tourist sights in Colombia. This collection is unimaginable and will leave you speechless!
4. Cook local Colombian cuisine in the home of a local resident as a tour option through 5bogota.com
5. Stay in the charming and adorable town of Salento to observe all the vibrantly painted houses, doors and window shutters.
6. Drink coffee on a daily basis taking after the locals who will serve it strong and black. I had the best damn coffee of my life at Don Elias plantation.
7. Wander the streets in the old walled town of Cartagena until you get lost.
8. Taste chocolate samples at the incredible Museo del Cocoa in Cartagena. There are also tours, cooking courses and of course many things you can purchase including chocolate candles.
9. Walk the wall which surrounds the perimeter of old town Cartagena built over 500 years ago nearing 7 miles long and at points over 30 feet thick.
10. Cherish the architectural beauty in any local church. There are numerous churches we visited that were incredible in their unique way; however every church regardless of day or time had local patrons actively practicing their faith.
This was a pretty busy year traveling on 35 flightsand staying at 19 different hotels; however nothing compared to road warriors who travel relentlessly for work who are likely to quadruple these numbers. However keep in mind this is all vacation travel and don’t dare ask the cost unless you want to pay the Visa bill.
Best Festival – Romania Annual Spring Ploughman Festival (April 2016): On our visit to Bran Castle we had the good fortune to be there at the time of the Annual Spring Ploughman Festival which is held to promote a good harvest for the crops. It was a beautiful display of local traditional clothing, music and dancing. In addition to all of this fanfare the ladies promenade around with enormous basket of pastries welcoming the public to enjoy the good harvest blessing.
Best natural site – Fall Foliage Drive near Conway New Hampshire (October 2016): For many years I have wanted to travel out east to check out the fall foliage. However as an avid college football fan historically this had conflicting weekend priorities; until I sold my season tickets.
Timing is everything for fall foliage and that window can be very limited sometimes. There is only so much planning you can do in advance as it all depends on Mother Nature. Look at the historical weather reports and peak foliage reports to get a gauge of what weekends it might peak then book your hotel room asap. There is limited hotel rooms and everyone wants to be there when the fall foliage peaks! Check out possible driving routes but be flexible to changes based on the latest peak foliage report. Be sure to take your smartphone and backup charger to plan your revised driving routes.
Best site – Bucovina Romania Painted Monasteries (April 2016): Do you remember when I said UNESCO sites do not disappoint? This is definitely one! We sat mystified gazing at the frescos dating back to the early 1500’s and wondering what natural ingredients were used to create the blue hues. When we visited in April it was off season but rarely had to
share any part of the monastery with anyone else. This may still be off the tourist radar for many people however given that it is a UNESCO site it could gain in popularity. I would highly recommend a visit if you have interest in fresco artwork.
Best Drink – Colombia coffee at Don Elias Organic Coffee Plantation (November 2016): Colombia is famous for it’s coffee production and we had enjoyed countless cups of coffee around the country. Everyone has their own personal taste when it comes to coffee but in Colombia you will never be offered cream for your coffee as it would distract from the taste. You can have it black or with sugar in general. We headed to the source to see coffee plantation region near Salento to learn more about the coffee production. While on descent you can already see the beautiful lush green landscape that you can only imagine.
Don Elias plantation is a family run business that focuses on sustainable production and utilizing your environment to peak performance. They offer tours of the plantation which are very interesting to see their simple and wholesome process that produces a large volume of coffee. At Don Elias Coffee Plantation I had the best damn coffee in my life. I prefer cream and sugar in my coffee; however I was surprisingly in agreement with the locals that when you have a good quality coffee it is better to drink it black. The good news is that he sells the coffee whole beans or ground packaged onsite and I bought several packages to take home. The bad news you can only buy it on the farm and I should have bought more! Or perhaps when you visit you can pick me up a package?
As an experienced international traveller I generally prefer to avoid organized tours. However we found Hello Bucovina as the perfect option as it offers private customi
zed tours! We had requested a 3 day private tour which covered a big wish list of sights spanning many kilometers and multiple countries. We had two guides
over the course of the itinerary who were very knowledge about the sights, country, history, etc. The guides were extremely friendly and kindly greeted us at the airport late in the evening for transport to our hotel.
We had time available while in transit to learn more about local culture and current events. We spent several days with Chip as our guide who is also the company owner. Chip is very dedicated to providing his clients with the best experience and asks for feedback throughout the tour. We appreciated that each day the agenda and rough timelines were clearly established so we knew what to expect. I am looking forward to traveling to Eastern Europe sometime soon and connect again with Hello Bucovinato arrange another tour.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year and hope 2017 brings you great travel adventures!
Ladies and Gents I hope you are sitting down and ready to download some awesome apps! My love for travel has overtaken my timely new blog posts as I have traveled on 17 flights in the last few weeks. My apologies everyone!
All 3 of these amazing hot apps are FREE!
This app provides you with a quick price comparison on transport options between any 2 cities you enter. The transport options included vary based on destination but could include flights, trains, bus, ferry, rideshare, taxi and estimated cost to drive. While it does not take into consideration the date of travel it will quickly give you a general sense of the time and cost for each option. It links to accommodations, attractions, and finds google ads with links to recent sales.
Here is an example: Bangkok Thailand to Siem Reap Cambodia.
This app gives you a quick overview of your options for lounge access based on your itinerary. While you may recall that I currently do not have status with any airline. However I do have lounge access though several different credit cards and one time passes. Once you have entered into the app which credit cards, elite status, lounge club memberships you currently have you are ready to roll.
You simply enter your itinerary including the airports, airline, and cabin class. It will provide you a list of lounge options that have you may have access to and specific details on where they are located in the airport. It also includes details regarding hours of operation, amenities, reviews and if you are allowed to bring guests along with you.
If you you are interested in a $10 credit, use my referral code VXSJUD85U6 when you visit loungebuddy.com.
This is an amazing app that lets you create a custom postcard with your personal photos and personalized text. It will be sent via US Mail and be delivered within 5-7 days. No more searching for the right postcard or stamps in foreign countries! In addition the photo pops out of the postcard for a 3 x 3 inch photo to tuck into your purse or post on your fridge. All this for only 99 cents a postcard!
I still highly recommend 2 of my favorite apps I blogged about last year: check out Worldmate & Triposo
So imagine yourself in a beautiful vineyard at a wine tasting enjoying one of the most amazing wines you have had in years. It sounds like paradise right? It is! You then learn from the vineyard owner that they have a very small annual production and the wine is not exported; as a matter of fact the wine is only sold locally right here at the vineyard in Mendoza Argentina. Oh no!!!
Sadly this scenario has become a common problem for me traveling around the world and discovering some of the very best wines are not exported. After 10 years I still crave a wine from Stellenbosch South Africa.
How do you bring home these amazing wines?
There are a few options:
Ship it from the vineyard directly to your home. This is an option that most larger vineyards provide however there are additional fees involved and it can get quite pricey quickly.
Buy it and then ship it yourself from a local post office. This is usually a good option but does require some additional effort on your part and ideally you have a rental car to transport the wine. It make take several weeks for your wine to arrive at your home and I would not recommend doing this with expensive wine.
Buy it and pack it in your suitcase. My favorite choice! I have successfully transported wine from over a dozen countries as far away as Australia and South Africa.
How to pack wine in your checked luggage?
Let me start by saying that I have NEVER had a bottle of wine break in my suitcase. I have packed up to 10 bottles into a medium roller board suitcase with no issues. I sadly cannot guarantee your success of course but I have followed these simple steps dozens of times.
Utilize a t-shirt (or any clothing item) to wrap around the bottle of wine; wrapping like a present.
Place the wrapped wine bottle into a plastic carrier bag or ideally large ziplock bag to avoid any clinking.
Put the plastic bag that contains the bottle into a medium packing cube.
Repeat the process for 2 additional bottles of wine that will all fit firmly into one medium packing cube.
In the event that you have less than 3 bottles continue to fill the packing cube with additional clothes until firmly packed.
I recommend putting your shoes on the bottom of the suit case for extra protection; then load the packing cubes on top.
That’s it! Get home and enjoy some amazing wine!
Reminder: Check the customs policies for your home country. In many countries you are allowed 3 bottles duty free but if you bring more just declare it on your customs form. There may be a small tax but well worth the price of amazing wine!
All trips are unique and will require something different to be carried in your day bag. However after 60 plus countries around the world these 5 items are always in my day travel bag regardless of where I am traveling. In a prevoius post I wrote about “5 must have items for any flight!” and today let’s consider what you should be carrying with you before you leave your hotel for any adventure.
Water bottle: I personally drink a lot of water and always have a bottle with me regardless of the situation. I could be traveling around a big city or in the rainforest no exceptions; there I am carrying a water bottle. You could bring your own water filter but I always take a flat packable water bottle to refill.
Note pad & pen: This has been extremely helpful in international travel to write down the name and address of the destination we are going to as my pronunciation may not always be perfect. Just grab the one from your hotel room before you head out for the day.
Headache & Pain Relief Tablets: There is nothing worse than being on a vacation that you have waited months for and not feeling well! I always carry 2-6 tablets with me in a teeny tiny plastic bag in case I get a headache, tummy ache or etc.
Baby wipes: Not just for babies anymore. These really should be called “magic wipes” as they resolve so many travel needs from washing your hands, toilet paper substitute, getting dirt off clothes and cleaning leather shoes.
Collapsible shopping bag: This is critical. You may have absolutely no intentions of buying anything while you are out for the day. Yet somehow you end up unexpectedly at a local market or artisans fair. In many countries you have to purchase a bag to take your purchases home; so bring your own! I personally have been utilizing the same set of Envirosax bags for daily shopping for over 7 years now and they are still in great condition.
Shake your what? Djibouti? You have heard of it right. Is it the new dance craze?
A few weeks ago I had never heard of this African nation called Djibouti pronounced “ji-boo-tee”. However in less than a 24 hour period the country came up in two very different circles of conversation. It was a sign. We need to learn more about this country!
Djibouti is located on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean giving the nation a strategic advantage for Suez canal shipping lanes providing a majority of the nation’s trade. The region has been inhabited since 8000 BC with a current population of just under 1 million speaking primarily French and Arabic.
What is there to see in Djibouti?
Check out Lake Abbe with a lunar atmosphere and covered with flamingos. Famous for filming location of first Planet of the Apes movie (in review for UNESCO heritage status)
Take a hike among the Goda Mountains to check out the waterfalls
Swim or more appropriately float in Lake Assal as the salt level is similar to the Dead Sea (in review for UNESCO heritage status)
Snorkel with whale sharks in the Bay of Ghoubbet
Soak up the Arabian culture with a visit to the sea side town of Tadjourah
In May 2015 The Telegraph had an article “Djibouti: Africa’s hottest new travel destination” with tourism on the rise over 300% in the last 20 years. However tourism remains in it’s infancy I suspect due to the cost and challenges of local transportation. I may not put this country high on my wish list however it definitely will be added to the list for a someday wish list.
In today’s fast pace world many people are quick to dispose of things especially completed travel documents. Several years ago I started saving all of my boarding passes as a souvenir of the trip. On rainy days I will pull from the storage box to replay the trip video in my mind.
While the nostalgic value of a boarding pass can be easily discounted the documentation value for miles needs serious consideration. In the event that your flight did not get credited to your frequent flier mileage account in many instances the airline will require the boarding pass as proof of travel. This is extremely important when flying partner airlines given it is not their typical business process and the miles earned may take several days or weeks to post to your account.
I had discovered that my flight to Romania on LOT Polish Airlines had not posted to my Singapore Kris Flyer mileage account. Stay with me here as I clarify this; I utilized my Singapore miles account because I would earn more miles based on the fare class that I was flying than if I utilized my United Airlines or Lufthansa Miles & More account. So my boarding pass included my my Singapore Kris Flyer number yet the miles failed to be posted to my account. It is usually very easy to request the credit however finding the precious boarding passes in the travel closet was a bit of a chore. Given this was nearly 10,000 miles missing it was worth a little extra time!
This week I said a tearful goodbye to one of my dearest childhood friends who was tragically killed in a car accident. It has been an urgent reminder that life is short and we should live each day to the fullest.
My advice to you this week is simple in the words of Dalia Lama:
“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before”.
This world has so much to offer us and we need to take time to explore new places. This could be a grand adventure to a continent, country, city; or simply a visit to the city zoo, museum or theatre. Take the opportunity to experience new places especially those in your own backyard. The world is waiting for you…get out there!